North Korea, the historically secretive nation, recently opened its doors to media from around the world. What motivated this isolated regime to act so out of character? All signs point to an effort by the country’s leaders to begin the transfer of power to Kim Jong-un (KJU), the 27 or 28-year-old son of the dictator — his exact age is not publicly known. As Kim Jong-il (KJI) grows weaker in health, his thoughts seem to be turning towards the future. It appears that the dictator of North Korea has chosen KJU to succeed him as the next leader of the “People’s Republic.”
The first public appearance of KJU was made during celebrations for the 65th anniversary of the creation of the Workers’ Party, which has governed North Korea with an iron fist for decades. KJU was referred to as “The Young General” by Yang Hyong Sop, an official in the Workers’ Party. In an example of the cult of personality surrounding the leaders of the country, Yang was very excited about the leadership developments when talking to the Globe and Mail: “Our people take pride in the fact that they are blessed with great leaders from generation to generation.” The praise didn’t end there: “Our people are honoured to serve the great President Kim Il-sung and the great leader Kim Jong-il.The report continues, “Now we also have the honour of serving young General Kim Jong-un.”
To understand Yang’s over the top praise of his leaders, it’s important to remember that North Korea is a society built and sustained by fear. North Korea directs a staggering 33.9 per cent of GDP towards military spending. To put that in perspective, the United States spends only 3.2 per cent of GDP on their military. With so much money going towards their military, it is no wonder that North Korea suffers from constant famine and starvation.
North Korea has a total of seven million men and women in their armed forces and reserves. Of even greater concern, however, is their active nuclear weapons program. North Korea has detonated two nuclear devices in a show of force to the rest of the world. North Korea uses their military might and the threat of war to exert considerable leverage on the international community. These are not idle threats. With a large military, nuclear weapons and an arguably brainwashed population, North Korea could inflict horrendous casualties against South Korea, and against the 28.5 thousand American soldiers deployed along the demilitarized zone (DMZ) separating the two countries.
The people of North Korean have a tragic history. They have faced mass starvation, indoctrination and violent oppression under the Communist regime, while South Korea enjoys prosperity and political freedom. The stark divide is best shown by the fact that, due to malnutrition, the average North Korean is 7.6 centimetres shorter than the average South Korean.
In spite of this humanitarian disaster, North Korea has sustained their system of government with a powerful propaganda machine. Children are indoctrinated from birth to believe that their leaders are god-like and infallible. If not for the sad fact that millions of North Koreans believe in them, the myths surrounding their leaders would be laughable. To get an idea of the propaganda in North Korea, here are some “facts” about the glorious leader, KJI, courtesy of Listverse.com:
“According to North Korean historical literature, KJI was born in a log cabin inside a secret base on Korea’s most sacred mountain, Mount Paekdu. At the moment of his birth, a bright star lit up the sky, the seasons spontaneously changed from winter to spring and rainbows appeared. This contradicts the way-less interesting Western accounts of his birth, which state the dictator was born in a guerilla camp in Russia, while his father was on the run from the Japanese.
“Since any American influences have long since been banned in his tiny communist country, KJI had no choice but to create some new non-Western food by himself. North Korean newspaper Minju Joson reported that KJI invented a new sandwich called “double bread with meat” in an attempt to provide “quality” food to university students. He then built a plant capable of mass hamburger production to feed his students and teachers, despite the fact that the majority of his citizens battle famine on a daily basis.
“If that weren’t enough, KJI is also the best natural golfer in history. In 1994 it was reported by Pyongyang media outlets that KJI shot 38 under par on a regulation 18-hole golf course — including five holes in one! That score is 25 shots better than the best round in history, and is made even more amazing by the fact that it was his first time playing the sport. It’s said KJI would routinely sink three or four holes in one per round of golf, and — lucky for the PGA — he has since given it up.”
The vast majority of North Koreans believe these lies. Since 1948, their minds have been twisted for the purposes of their oppressors. So, what does the future hold for North Korea as this cult of personality is transferred from KJI to KJU? Well, we have Yang’s opinion: “What I can tell you is that comrade Kim Jong-il and comrade Kim Jong-un will lead us to victory with their wise guidance, and our people are well aware of the significance of the 65th anniversary of the founding of the Workers’ Party of Korea.”
Unfortunately, the truth is not quite as rosy as Yang says. The reality for North Koreans is that they likely face three brutal options. The first is a collapse of their regime, perhaps brought about by infighting and division in the ruling elite once KJI dies. The second is a conflict with South Korea in which many innocent people will die, causing a humanitarian disaster as 23 million malnourished, oppressed and indoctrinated people suddenly join the rest of the world. The third and most likely option is that power transfers to KJU and the evil dictatorship continues with a new face. For the sake of the people of North and South Korea, let’s hope that there is another way out of this mess.
Spencer Fernando is the International Coordinator for the Manitoban.